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Indigenous ‘Idle No More’ Movement Sweeps Across US

Over 80 actions held in support of Canadian First Nation’s demand for rights and environmental justice

On Friday, January 11, nearly 50 residents from the Washington, D.C. metro area stood at the steps of the Canadian Embassy and slathered themselves with chocolate syrup. Smudged across faces and clothing, the sticky, sweet syrup began to take on a sinister look.

As rain, fog, and dusk settled over the Capitol, the chocolate-covered demonstrators who were participating in the Idle No More Global Day of Action appeared to be soaked in oil.

Idle no more protest Photo by Lauren JohnsonIn Washington DC, protestors gathered at the US Embassy and decried the environmental
damage by tar sands oil extraction in Alberta, Canada.

“Across the continent, actions are being held to show support for Indigenous peoples’ rights to self-determination,” said Chris Almanza, a D.C. resident hailing from the Navajo Nation in Arizona.

Idle No More — also known as #IdleNoMore on social media outlets— is an indigenous and environmental rights movement that began in Canada this past fall and quickly spread across the US and abroad in December.

The movement was initiated by four women activists from Canada’s Saskatchewan Province in November 2012 during a teach-in called “Idle No More” in response to Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s introduction of Bill C-45. This large omnibus bill threatens to reduce the level of community-given consent needed to conduct activities in Indigenous territory. It also lowers environmental protection standards for Canadian waterways, many of which pass thorough land reserved for First Nations.

The movement began to gather steam after Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation began a hunger strike on December 11 in order to garner attention to the negative impacts that the legislation would have on First Nations’ sovereignty rights and Canada’s water sources. The Harper administration, however, passed the bill on December 14.

Chief Spence now intends to sustain herself on a diet of fish broth and tea until Prime Minister Harper and Governor General David Johnston agree to meet jointly with Canada’s Assembly of First Nations (AFN) to renegotiate the conditions in the bill. Her strike has served as a rallying call for the movement in Canada, the US, and overseas.

This past Friday, Prime Minister Harper agreed to meet with the AFN, but Chief Spence boycotted the meeting because Governor General Johnston did not participate. Idle No More allies organized the Global Day of Action on the same day to show their support for Chief Spence and Indigenous peoples’ rights worldwide.

Idle no more protest Photo by Jonathon ReedThousands of demonstrators across North America have participated in flashmobs, drum circles,
and traditional dance and music performances.

Last week, #J11 began trending on Twitter and Facebook as coordinators utilized social media to organize events and attract participants. Across Canada’s provinces, thousands of demonstrators organized flashmobs, drum circles, and traditional dance and music performances. They also set up blockades along major highways and railroads.

Events on Friday also took place as far away as Egypt and New Zealand.  In the US, over 80 actions were held across the country according to data compiled by event coordinators in the Washington, D.C. metro area. (check out the data on the We All Occupy Facebook group page).  

In Washington, D.C, event coordinators distributed old, white T-shirts for the participants to soil with chocolate syrup. The syrup represented the environmental damage that is done by clear cutting Canada’s Boreal forest in order to extract oil from the tar sands.

“By reducing environmental protection standards, the provisions included in C-45 will enable greater resource extraction from the tar sands,” said Kelly Canavan, a Washington, D.C. Global Day of Action coordinator. “In addition to contaminating Indigenous peoples’ lands and water sources, tar sand extraction will release thousands of tons of climate change causing carbon into the atmosphere.”

D.C. resident Chris Almanza participated in the Global Day of Action, not only to show his support for communities affected by contamination caused by tar sands extraction, but also because he worries that C-45 could set a bad precedent for global environmental legislation. “If water protection standards can be reduced in Canada, what would stop legislators from reducing standards elsewhere for the sake of resource extraction?” Almanza said.

Idle No More supporters and allies are preparing for more demonstrations throughout this month.

“This movement appeals to a broad spectrum of people, and they are excited about it,” said Canavan. “There were a lot of events, and more are planned soon.  Another global day of action has been called for Jan 28.  Hopefully, the momentum we have been building will just continue to grow.”

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